By Mustapha Jallow
Research doctors from the Medical Research Council Unit (MRC) in The Gambia on Tuesday revealed that at least forty (41) children are silently suffering from Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in the country.
This revelation was made during the dissemination day of results of the RHD screening at Bundung school under the ‘LATTE Project.’ The event was organised by the MRC (RHD) study-team and attended by government stakeholders, partners, school going students and ward councillors.
“Among the 3000 children that we scanned, we found 41 children with Rheumatic Heart Disease confirmed. All of them have been reviewed by expert cardiologists who have been giving them advice for treatment. They were referred for monitoring and treatment at either MRC or EFSTH,’’ said Dr. Annette Erhart, a Clinical Epidemiologist at MRC (PI LATTE).
“At the end of the study, we are able to say that we identified 41 children in total with heart disease. All of them were not aware of their condition. We referred them for proper cardia-management and monitoring,’’ she explained.
The event, which was held at Nusrat Senior Secondary School on 27th July 2021, included several presentations with information on RHD – causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention as well as preliminary results of the project. Although, the study explained that RHD is readily preventable with penicillin.
According to the study-team, the project aims to determine the burden of RHD among children aged 5-19 years and pregnant women in the country, adding that complications include heart failure, atrial fibrillation, stroke, infective endocarditis and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“It was also aimed to measure the burden of disease in especially school aged children and young adults because there is no data available in The Gambia so far,’’ she stated.
Dr. Erhart explained that parents of these children have come to know how their child must be follow-up and how the child must be treated from this disease. She said they got an initial seed award from the United Kingdom to do a first study in The Gambia.
She also said the study also found that “every hundred children in schools have one or two who are sick but who don’t know it.”
She however advised the parents to allow their children to undergo screening for disease, which she described as a silent killer.
Sulayman Jammeh, Bundung Ward Councillor, said the research on heart disease is critical and most people don’t know it easily. He assured the MRC officials that his community members are willing and ready to work with them.
“We assure you of our corporation and willingness to cooperate with you. In terms of sensitisation, we are also willing to talk to people so that they can be tested to ensure they know their status,’’ he said.
In her presentation, Dr. Stephanie Akanni, LATTE Cardiologist indicated the total result of the screening at the schools as follows: “Nusrat Bundung suspect cases 04, confirmed RHD 04 (100%), normal 0 and other diseases 0 as well, Charles Jaw suspected cases 27, confirmed RHD 12 (44%), normal 12 and other disease 3, Bundung Annex suspected cases 47, confirmed RHD 13 (28%), normal 33 and other disease 01 – and Bundung Proper suspected cases 50, confirmed RHD 12 (24%), normal 35 and other diseases 3.”
She said the total number of suspected cases are 128, confirmed RHD 41 (32%), normal 80 (63%) and other diseases 7 (5%).
Dr. Lamin Jaiteh, a Cardiologist from the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (EFSTH) and co-partner to the MRC LATTE project on RHD, said the disease was in Europe and was only eradicated through good policies.
Dr. Jaiteh said it would have been more important if the ministry of health and ministry of basic and secondary education were present at the meeting. He said Gambia is good at theory but backward when it comes to practical, saying “our policy makers need to know that RHD is a problem, preventing our kids from going to school and killing them.”
Dr. Jaiteh added that the disease is also causing big catastrophes in families, especially the mothers who struggle to buy medicines for their kids. He said many people in the country do not know that this heart disease exists.
He said an awareness campaign needs to be created to educate Gambians about the silent disease, while urging policy makers to look into the matter and introduce policies to ensure the disease is curbed.